Company fined $387K for hiring children to clean slaughterhouses in Minnesota

Photo showing limited visibility and condition of the floor at the Worthington JBS plant. Photo located in lawsuit document (taken by WHI Latuff) (Supplied)

The company sued by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) for using child labor at slaughterhouses and meat processing facilities in Minnesota and seven other states paid over $1.5 million in penalties on Friday, according to the DOL.

The DOL said Packers Sanitation Services Inc (PSSI) paid civil penalties to facilities in Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee and Texas, according to a press release.

The investigation started in 2022 and ultimately found the company hired at least 102 children – aged 13 to 17 – to work overnight shifts in hazardous conditions at 13 meat processing facilities in eight states. 

According to the DOL, dozens of children were affected in Minnesota at three meat packing facility plants, including two children at Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, one child at Buckhead Meat of Minnesota in St. Cloud, and 22 children at JBS Foods in Worthington. 

On Feb. 16, PSSI paid $1.5 million in civil money penalties, including $387,450 – or $15,138 per child – for the labor violations at the Minnesota plants, according to the press release. 

The department filed a lawsuit against PSSI on Nov. 9, 2022, in Nebraska court. A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order the following day prohibiting the company from committing child labor violations. Nearly a month later, the employer agreed to follow labor laws and take immediate action in reviewing existing policies and training materials. 

"The Department of Labor has made it absolutely clear that violations of child labor laws will not be tolerated," said Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda. "No child should ever be subject to the conditions found in this investigation. The courts have upheld the department’s rightful authority to execute federal court-approved search warrants and compelled this employer to change their hiring practices to ensure compliance with the law."

The Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits minors from working more than three hours during school days, overnight, or operating motor vehicles, forklifts or other hazardous equipment. 

The DOL says Packers Sanitation Services is one of the largest providers of food safety sanitation.